Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 46

De Leito was one of the most important Madrid
painters to address this theme. His depictions of
Vanitas occur in enigmatic, nocturnal settings, that
combine an exquisite, loosely-arranged mixture
of luxury objects, tattered books and skulls, all
rendered with an almost evanescent handling that
gives his compositions a rarefied dimension. The
result is far removed from the naturalism or subtle
symbolism that characterizes the Dutch idiom;
nor does it exhibit the culture of emblems, which
arose from the conceptual condensing of the theme
through the representation of elements referring to
fragility and transience (soap bubbles, clay pipes,
withered flowers, hour glasses etc.). Nor did De
Leito make use of complex hieroglyphics referring
to death and judgment. Rather his complex, often
slightly disturbing compositions depict a large
array of objects representing the vanity of worldly
possessions. His scenes lack any human presence
and do not linger on eschatological issues. A clock,
a candle, an almost-spent oil lamp, a skull, playing
cards, coins, a purse, a casket, jewels, books, and
exquisite vessels are disordered on a table top, while
the middle-ground might include a depiction of a
Christian subject as an exhortation to virtue.20 In
examples by other artists, the symbolism of some
of these objects is ambiguous, however, this is not
the case with De Leito. The clock refers solely to the
inexorable passing of time; the mirror is always a
symbol of vanity and pride, offering a reversed and
thus false image of things, which, as Diego de Estella
noted, can also refer to the art of painting itself.21
The same should be said of books, which allude
to the destruction of time rather than to science.
Portraits of a beloved woman refer to the ephemeral
nature of beauty, rather than love itself,22 and
sometimes carry a moral connotation.
Fig. 9 / Andrés De Leito, Vanitas
(detail), oil on canvas, 107 x
155.5 cm, Colnaghi.
Fig. 10 / Andrés De Leito, Vanitas,
oil on canvas, 64.5 x 77.5 cm,
Madrid, formerly Duke of
El Infantado Collection.
Fig. 11 / Andrés De Leito, Vanitas,
oil on canvas, 64.5 x 77.5 cm,
Madrid, formerly Duke of
El Infantado Collection.
false youth, the perishable nature of worldly
goods, the appetites of the flesh, vainglory,
temporal pleasures, power, the desire for honours,
praise and favours, and an interest in focusing
only on the present and material matters. Such
temptations are seen as the result of the folly of
those who should be looking to the future and
aspiring to spiritual, eternal beauty, given that “the
efforts employed in serving this unhappy world are
futile. In the end, all is vanity.”19
With the important discovery of the Vanitas currently
with Colnaghi, five Vanitas still lifes by De Leito are
now known. Four of these bear signatures, while the
painting formerly in the Blanco Soler Collection has
an apocryphal signature of Pereda: “ANTONIVS
PEREDA /Fecit”.23 The latter work, the most
restrained and simple of the group, has similar, if
slightly drier, handling and shares affinities with the
others, making its attribution unquestionable. The
two canvases formerly in the collection of the Duke
of El Infantado (figs. 10 & 11) may have been a pair
from the time of their creation, suggesting a particular
collector with a broader interest in the subject.


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